anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Posts Tagged ‘Writing

Cheryl Strayed

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“We are all responsible for finding beauty in our lives even when things are difficult.”

-Cheryl Strayed

At the end of May, I was lucky enough to sit down with Cheryl Strayed and interview her for the Women’s Wisdom Project. Cheryl and I had met a few times over the years while attending Mountainfilm, and I was honored that she graciously offered to spend an hour with me talking about all things related to wisdom.

Of course, I knew that this conversation would need to go a little above and beyond just a papercut portrait, or even a Q&A. So I asked my friend Gale Straub at She Explores if she would be interested in having me record the interview and we could turn it into a podcast. I got another yes, and soon found myself nervously preparing to record an interview with a new recording device that I had never used.

I say this because I think that context is everything. There’s always a back story, and in this case, the back story was that I wanted to doing something that I really didn’t know how to do (audio recording), and doubt and fear immediately kicked in at the back of my mind (“what if you ruin this audio entirely?”).

I dove in anyway.

Cheryl and I had a wonderful conversation. It’s a conversation that I have thought about so many times since. As for the audio? Well, it wasn’t perfect. But Gale (with a lot of work, that I am very grateful for) managed to turn it into a podcast episode, which you can listen to here.

It was a reminder that you have to push past fear. That things won’t always be perfect, but you’ll learn along the way. That’s a lot of what Cheryl and I talked about in our conversation. I replayed this part of our interview a few times as I was working on putting this piece together:

“One of my quotes in Tiny, Beautiful Things and in Brave Enough is that you give fear a seat at the table. You say, ‘welcome fear, your presence is an indication to me that I’m doing the work I’m meant to be doing.’ Because fear is part of our best work.”

Fear is part of our best work. Remember that.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast, but I wanted to capture some of my favorite parts of the interview here so that you could read them as well (including a couple of things that didn’t make it into the podcast).

I listened to this interview several times, wondering what bit of wisdom I would pull from Cheryl to use as the quote in her papercut. That’s the thing about quotes; they are always snippets, and this conversation was so rich, there was no way to boil it down to one sentence.

But there was one that stood out: “We are all responsible for finding beauty in our lives even when things are difficult.” Even Cheryl will admit that this bit of wisdom isn’t hers. It’s her mother’s. I chose it, because I think that it embodies the fact that wisdom is all around us, that it’s never just “ours.” Wisdom is passed down, it evolves, we offer it to others, and they pass it along to someone else.

We have so much to share with each other, and most often, the most meaningful wisdom and advice that guides is doesn’t come from a notable public figure, but in fact, from the people closest to us.

Anna: You are a prime person to talk to about wisdom, because I think a lot of people seek wisdom from you. 

Cheryl: It’s always strange for me to hear that I’m some sort of fount of wisdom and that’s always been the funny, an uneasy position that I’ve been in, not just as an advice giver as Dear Sugar, but even my other books Wild and, and my novel Torch. My books have always been read in this way that people take from them advice. So much of what I’ve been interested in as a writer is our emotional lives, our relationships, the ways that we love and lose and suffer and recover and grapple with how to be in the world.

What ends up happening is because I have spent so many years really examining that and thinking about that and writing about that, I ended up seeming like this figure, this wise woman. And I have to say, it makes me laugh because because I’ve got so much to learn. I think maybe part of the thing I feel grateful about when it comes to wisdom, it does come from that place of having a lot to learn and it comes from that place of being somebody who has had to do a lot of living and a lot of experiencing and a lot of loving and losing and making mistakes and making amends and trying to figure out the better way.

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Written by Anna Brones

August 8, 2018 at 10:56

Cultivating Wonder and Imagination

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wonder

noun I won·der I \ ˈwən-dər \
1 a : a cause of astonishment or admiration : marvel it’s a wonder you weren’t killed the pyramid is a wonder to behold
b : miracle
2 : the quality of exciting amazed admiration
3 a : rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience
b : a feeling of doubt or uncertainty

Merriam Webster

As a child, I remember the feeling of waking up for the first day of summer vacation. There was a lightness to that morning. No time to be out the door, no schedule to abide to. No homework to think of, no expectations of after school sports practice.

There was nothing, and in that nothingness, there was the potential of everything.

That first day off felt limitless. An entire summer in front of you to be enjoyed. There might be trips planned, or certain things that needed to be done, but in those waking moments of the first morning, there was that feeling of absolute freedom.

I often wonder how children feel on summer vacation now. If they are too booked up to just get to play and explore. And even more, I wonder how we as adults work to get back to that feeling of limitlessness. With our phones, and email and Twitter feeds and to-do lists, it’s difficult to ever feel like we are in that state of an absolutely blank slate. Instead, we come to the slate with baggage and even when we wipe it clean, we’re usually bad about leaving a few things on the board. When we do that, it’s hard to be open to the world around us. We go through the motions, tick off the do to list, then start over. It’s hard to be awake. It’s hard to feel a sense of wonder.

When was the last time you felt a sense of wonder?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I rode our bicycles to our favorite nearby state park to camp for the night. It’s an easy overnight, one with enough hills on the way to make you feel like you did something. The flora and fauna is the same as at our house, but pedaling those 10 miles gives me enough physical and emotional separation that by the time I arrive and set up our tent, I am in a completely different head space. The to do lists are left behind; I refuse to pack them in my panniers.

On this evening in question, we took our late dinner down to the dock to watch the sunset. The sky filled with intense pinks and blues, reflected in the shimmering waves of the saltwater. As the sun sank beneath the horizon, the dark trees made a perfect silhouette against the sky, as if someone had cut them from paper and glued them there.

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Written by Anna Brones

August 3, 2018 at 09:38

Posted in Design + Creativity

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Is Doubt Getting in the Way of Your Work?

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“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

– Lao Tzu

I feel like I need this reminder this week, and maybe you do too. Let things be what they need to be. Tell the doubt that you don’t have time for it today. Let your words and mind go where they need to go. Get out of the way of yourself. Stay with what needs you but let yourself move on to whatever is next when the time comes. Allow yourself to flow.

Why is it so hard to exist in that flow space though? I came across a 1973 lecture by Agnes Martin, titled “On the Perfection Underlying Life” that begins to get at the answer to that question.

When we wake up in the morning we are inspired to do some certain thing and we do do it. The difficulty lies in the fact that it may turn out well or it may not turn out well. If it turns out well we have a tendency to think that we have successfully followed our inspiration and if it does not turn out well we have a tendency to think that we have lost our inspiration. But that is not true. There is successful work and work that fails but all of it is inspired. I will speak later about successful works of art but here I want to speak of failures. Failures that should be discarded and completely cut off.

I have come especially to talk to those among you who recognize these failures. I want particularly to talk to those who recognize all of their failures and feel inadequate and defeated, to those who feel insufficient – short of what is expected or needed. I would like somehow to explain that these feelings are the natural state of mind of the artist, that a sense of disappointment and defeat is the essential state of mind for creative work.

Fear. Failure. Defeat. Doubt.

So many of us struggle with this. Perhaps it’s because this has been on my mind, but I have seen numerous references to doubt pop up in the last week. I saw the writer and illustrator Emily McDowell tackle the question on Instagram (I loved her answer), I saw a comic about impostor syndrome, after reading an article about Gabriele Münter I thought about how much inspiration someone can give someone else, and how quickly that can turn to doubt.

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Written by Anna Brones

July 13, 2018 at 08:38

Wild Woman

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The wild woman who wants to feel her feet in the grass, dewy blades poking up between her toes.

The wild woman who stands outside on a winter morning, just to feel the cold wind on her cheek, telling her that she is alive.

The wild woman who seeks solace in the night sky, the stars a reminder of her tiny presence on earth, but its vast potential.

The wild woman who finds beauty in the smallest moments; the surprise of a wild strawberry on the forest floor, the change of color in a leaf, the unfurling of a fern.

The wild woman who finds adventure in her backyard, who explores new lands and cultures on the ground and in her imagination.

The wild woman who has the courage to say yes, but the wisdom to say no.

The wild woman who is open to the universe, hears the wind in the trees, feels the stillness of the forest.

The wild woman who wants the freedom of an afternoon for exploration, whether it’s afar and at home.

The wild woman who sits still, and the wild woman who runs.

The wild woman who embraces her being, and releases the confines of expectation.

The wild woman who forges her own path.

The wild woman who knows that she is the only one who gets to define her happiness.

The wild woman who is thankful for her time on this planet, and empathetic to all the beings around her.

The wild woman who searches the forest for fresh nettles on a spring day.

The wild woman who catches the glint of sun shining through an icicle on a winter morning.

The wild woman who rides her bicycle to feel the surge of freedom.

The wild woman whose face is crusted in the salt of the sea.

The wild woman who gives everything to her community, and the wild woman who prefers to be alone.

The wild woman who takes time to breath, time to feel, time to create.

The wild woman who feels pain and joy.

The wild woman whose wildness is hers and hers alone.

 

Written by Anna Brones

May 16, 2018 at 10:48

In the Footsteps of Creative Women

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I’ve always been drawn to the Southwest. Perhaps it’s because there are so many stark contrasts to my native Pacific Northwest. Lush, wet greens replaced by dusty pinks, light and dryness instead of wet grays. The reasons that I love the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest are also what drive me to seek out places elsewhere, not because I am trying to replace them, but because I am so inspired by the differences to be found elsewhere.

The colors of the sky, intense and dusty all at the same time. The smell of sage brought out by the heat of the sun. That feeling of the desert resonates with me, even though I’ve never lived there, and perhaps never will.

I am not the only one to have drawn inspiration from that landscape.

“I found out that the sunshine in New Mexico could do almost anything with one: make one well if one felt ill, or change a dark mood and lighten it. It entered into one’s deepest places and melted the thick, slow densities. It made one feel good. That is, alive.”

That’s a quote from Mabel Dodge Luhan, a woman with a colorful history who in the early 1900s made her way to Taos, New Mexico. She fell in love with Antonio Luhan, a Taos Pueblo Indian, and eventually they bought a plot of land and built a house on it. It started as a four-room adobe, but expanded to seventeen rooms, the Luhans wanting to create a space that was inviting to those with a creative spirit.

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Written by Anna Brones

February 19, 2018 at 07:32

Women’s Wisdom Project

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Going into this year, I knew that I wanted a bigger project to work on. A couple of months ago I had made a few papercuts inspired by the Unsung Heroines Instagram account, run by Molly Schiot, author of Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History. As I was working on those papercuts, going through an assortment of portrait photos and quotes for inspiration, I started thinking about all that the women of past and present have to offer. What insight do they have? What can they teach us?

I thought about a collection of papercuts, each done as a portrait of a woman, and paired with a quote of something that she had once written or said. The idea would be to compile the wisdom of many women through art.

And so the seed for the Women’s Wisdom Project was planted.

During the month of January, Kickstarter is running the Make 100 campaign, an initiative to focus on editions of 100. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to launch the Women’s Wisdom Project. Starting this month, I’m committing to making 100 papercuts this year, documenting a variety of amazing women and what we have to learn from them.

Over the course of the year, I am certain that the project will continue to develop (zine? book? calendar?) but this is a way for you to support in the initial stages, and if you are interested in doing so, you can check out the Kickstarter campaign here. There are limited edition cards and prints available as well as some other fun items.

Above is a papercut I made last week, in honor of Virginia Woolf’s birthday. “Once she knows how to read there’s only one thing you can teach her to believe in and that is herself,” Woolf wrote.

Women deserve to be heard, we deserve to have a voice. Hearing the voices of others also empowers us to find our own. This is why I want to create work to showcase women from around the world – and throughout history – and their wisdom.

Supporting this work means supporting the work of women throughout the ages and amplifying their voices. The project will honor women of the past and women of the present, and I would also like this project to inspire community support for women overall, encouraging people to support women’s work in their local communities.

Throughout the course of the project, I will highlight these stories and the artwork right here on my website, in my newsletter and on social media channels. You can check out #womenswisdomproject on Instagram.

I look forward to working on this project and to sharing it with all of you.

Written by Anna Brones

January 29, 2018 at 10:40

Adventure Journals

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What inspires you to get out and adventure?

That was the driving question behind this collection of three Adventure Journals, a special, limited edition collaboration with my friends over at Wylder Goods. Inspired by the pursuit of adventure – whether it’s a bike ride, a cup of coffee brewed outside, or a night under the stars – these journals are there to accompany you and provide a home for your thoughts, musings and ponderings.

They each feature one of my papercuts, and are printed by Scout Books in Portland, Oregon.

What makes these special:

  • 100% recycled Kraft cover!
  • 100% recycle white interior paper!
  • 100% awesome!

You can snag them in my shop or over on Wylder Goods.

Written by Anna Brones

June 30, 2017 at 14:31